CAP Health Check: the environment gets a placebo treatment
EU Farm Ministers fail to deliver a more sustainable CAP
On 20 November 2008 Europe’s farm ministers have agreed reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that completely fail to address the new environmental challenges of the 21st Century. And sadly valiant efforts by some Members of Parliament to improve the proposals have largely failed.
This marks the highly disappointing conclusion of the so-called ‘Health Check’ of the CAP. “The patient is still ill and won’t get any better with the prescribed treatment” commented Ariel Brunner, EU Agriculture Policy Officer at BirdLife in Brussels.
Tiny modulation keeps money waste while starving environmental measures
Despite agreeing that the CAP needed to address “new challenges” of biodiversity, climate change and wise use of water through the Rural Development Regulation, ministers have drastically scaled back modulation proposals that would have shifted funds from untargeted farm subsidies toward targeted payments rewarding farming for better land management and for adopting sustainable practices. The decline in Europe’s farmland biodiversity seems set to continue – despite evidence that when schemes are in place to reverse this trend, farmers take them up enthusiastically.
Abolishing set-aside: delivering another blow to Europe’s biodiversity
Although there is clear evidence that the abolition of set-aside is likely to have serious impacts on the environment, only half-hearted measures have been put in place to address this risk.
"The patient is still ill and won’t get any better with the prescribed treatment” —Ariel Brunner, EU Agriculture Policy Officer at BirdLife European Division
Cross compliance remains ineffective between new lights and shadows
Cross compliance is the mechanism linking the receipt of CAP subsidies to respect of laws and basic good practice rules. The Health Check is bringing in some modest but important improvements by introducing a better protection of hedgerows and other landscape elements and requiring farmers to establish buffer strips around rivers (to reduce fertilizer and pesticide pollution). It would also require Member States to withdraw subsidies from farmers illegally abstracting water. On the other hand, rules protecting wildlife from persecution have been weakened and no action is being taken to protect permanent grasslands. Control and compliance mechanisms are being watered down.
A yet unpublished report by the EU’s Court of Auditors is thought to warn that existing links between subsidy payments, wildlife laws and good environmental practice – called cross-compliance – are being ignored by many countries. This report was completed in February but has not been published yet. BirdLife understands that it provides crucial evidence that these links should be strengthened not weakened. Measures to help wildlife are already failing in many parts of Europe. This night’s decision goes in the opposite direction. Could it be that the report’s delayed publication has conveniently saved EU Ministers from embarrassment of taking opposite action to the Court’s recommendations?
BirdLife argues that all farm payments must be subject to basic and enforced environmental conditions such as creating a small space for wildlife on every farm and proper protection for grasslands. Payments must be stopped when the law is broken.
Grim prospects for an unreformed CAP?
Only last week the EU Budget Commissioner warned that the CAP risked being seen by EU taxpayers as backwards looking. The Health Check does little to address this perception and leaves the CAP vulnerable to calls for the policy to be scaled back and dealt with at a national level. This is a missed opportunity to prove that the CAP can be re-orientated to the urgent task of ensuring Europe’s long term environmental security, which underpins the productive efforts of its farmers.
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Credits: BirdLife in Europe